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All you need to know: Wolves vs Chelsea  All you need to know: Wolves vs Chelsea Sterling Wolves A 22 23 GettyImages 1480813723 scaled

All you need to know: Wolves vs Chelsea

Chelsea’s first-ever Christmas Eve Premier League fixture takes us to the Midlands to face Wolverhampton Wanderers. Club historian Rick Glanvill and club statistician Paul Dutton provide the preview for our festive trip to Molineux…

Chelsea open the three-round Premier League festive fixtures programme with a televised trip to Wolverhampton. The 1pm kick-off at Molineux is the second-ever Christmas Eve start in the competition – in the only previous instance Leeds United beat Manchester United 3-1 at Elland Road in 1995.

’Tis the season to be jolly after Tuesday’s gallant success, which earned the 59th semi-final in the club’s history as a young, depleted squad was forged into a band of brothers. Yet football waits for no-one and this lunchtime skirmish swiftly presents the next significant challenge. Though they rank 13th for home form, Wolves are unbeaten in their last six Premier League games at Molineux, their best run since August 2019.

That said, Chelsea are the 10th-best top-flight team on the road and the only one never to have been trailing at half-time this season (Tuesday is the only instance across all competitions). Although the Blues have conceded the opening goal in six of our eight away games, on two occasions we battled back to win.

We have won four of the five league games in which we broke the deadlock this season, yet have conceded four times without reply in the opening 15 minutes of games on the road. Meanwhile, Wanderers have been outscored at home over the opening quarter-hour of both halves.

Last season Wolves won this fixture 1-0 but Mauricio Pochettino will be determined to add a fifth successive new name to our list of winning managers there. Each of the four previous victories was under a different head coach (Claudio Ranieri, Carlo Ancelotti, Andre Villas-Boas and, most recently, Frank Lampard in 2019).

Team news

Mauricio Pochettino will want to bring the belief and momentum of Tuesday’s exultant cup victory against Newcastle instantly to bear in the league at Wolverhampton. The energetic second-half display was good practice for Sunday’s game and the Londoners will hope to exploit Wolves’ vulnerability in transition, exposed in last weekend’s 3-0 loss at West Ham.

The midweek game offered Pochettino food for thought on selections. Four centre-backs have been selected recently, but full-backs Malo Gusto and Ian Maatsen put in breezy performances that had Newcastle backtracking. With three games to fulfil in just seven days, 39-year-old Thiago Silva’s minutes will also be carefully considered.

There are big decisions to make up front. Cole Palmer dropped into midfield in midweek, but only after Enzo Fernandez was forced off. Christopher Nkunku made a measured but impressive debut and will hope to have further involvement this weekend, while Nicolas Jackson and Armando Broja are both leading the line pretty well.

Mykhailo Mudryk will hope to have earned a start in the Midlands after his epic intervention against Newcastle. Not at his recent best in the cup tie, Raheem Sterling nevertheless has a great record in his past six games against Wolves, scoring four goals and creating two, all but one at Molineux.

Goal contributions in all competitions in 2023/24

  Goals Assists Total
Cole Palmer 6 5 11
Nicolas Jackson 8 1 9
Raheem Sterling 6 2 8
Mykhailo Mudryk 3 1 4
Conor Gallagher 0 4 4
Enzo Fernandez 3 0 3
Levi Colwill 1 1 2
Benoit Badiashile 1 1 2
Malo Gusto 0 2 2
Armando Broja 1 0 1
Carney Chukwuemeka 1 0 1
Axel Disasi 1 0 1
Noni Madueke 1 0 1
Thiago Silva 1 0 1
Ben Chilwell 0 1 1
Reece James 0 1 1

Opposition scout – Wolves

Head coach Gary O’Neil generally sets his side up to play in a muscular, constricting fashion always ready to strike, and he is happy to nullify the likes of Manchester City. His Bournemouth side lost home and away to Chelsea last season.

At their best Wolves pack midfield around Joao Gomes to suppress opponents passing out from the back, with Pablo Sarabia, Matheus Cunha and Hwang Hee-Chan pouncing to gain possession. Their system allows them to swarm either box with numbers, but they often ease off for extended periods and can struggle against speedy counter-attacks when losing possession.

A physically imposing side marshalled by the experienced Craig Dawson, they benefit from the weighted through-passes of deep-lying midfielder Mario Lemina and determined dribbling of pacy winger Jean-Ricner Bellegarde. First-choice goalie Jose Sa is nursing a shoulder injury so Dan Bentley may deputise again this weekend.

At West Ham last weekend, Wanderers were authors of their own 3-0 downfall, poor passing and decision-making handing all three goals to the hosts. In mitigation, O’Neil claimed a bug had swept through his camp, and the Old Gold side reasserted their possession game, switching to five at the back, after Rayan Ait-Nouri made his return.

Wolves hope Neto could return on Sunday  All you need to know: Wolves vs Chelsea Neto GettyImages 1764769373
Wolves hope Neto could return on Sunday

 

Chief assister Pedro Neto, out since September, could be involved. He is the only current Wolves player with a Premier League goal to his name against Chelsea.

Chelsea vs Wolves – the history

Chelsea first played at Molineux 117 years ago this month in Division Two and it was only the second game in charge for manager William Lewis, previously the club secretary, who would lead the Pensioners to promotion in April. Prolific duo Jimmy Windridge and George Hilsdon, soon to be England team-mates, scored for the Londoners in a 2-1 victory.

More recently, in September 2003, the Blues’ record away win of 5-0 was delivered by strikes from Frank Lampard, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, Damien Duff and, rising from the bench, Hernan Crespo with a crisp brace.

The Londoners’ most recent win at Wolverhampton was 5-2 in September 2019, by which time Lampard was manager. Of the seven goals scored, Tammy Abraham accounted for four – uniquely including an own goal alongside his hat-trick.

20  All you need to know: Wolves vs Chelsea Abraham Wolves
MEN’S TEAM

TAMMY’S TREBLE AT THE WOLVES

The moment that Tammy Abraham truly became Chelsea’s No.9 – his first Blues hat-trick away at Wolves in an emphatic 5-2 win. Sit back and enjoy this one!

 

Late strikes from Wolves’ Patrick Cutrone and Blues forward Mason Mount completed the scoreline and made Chelsea the first team to score 11 consecutive Premier League goals with players aged 21 or younger.

Ghosts of Christmas Eve past

If you object to a Christmas Eve kick-off, imagine home and away fixtures on Christmas Day then Boxing Day. In 1924, Chelsea and Wolverhampton faced just that in the second tier. Full of festive cheer, the Blues won both games 1-0, Harry Miller netting at Stamford Bridge and Seth Plum poaching the winner in the Black Country.

Our best Christmas Eve performance was in 1938, when a 4-1 lashing of Liverpool brought tidings of great joy to the Stamford Bridge terraces. Dick Spence, Joe Payne (two) and a Harry Burgess penalty, won by Payne, doing the honours.

The Londoners’ most recent call to action on 24 December was way back in 1966, against the same opponents, and 37,000 souls were drawn away from last-minute preparations to watch the Blues.

If – as we surely believe – Father Christmas is a Chelsea fan, he would definitely have consigned Bill Shankly and his crew to the ‘naughty’ list as they won 2-1, Johnny Boyle netting the consolation for Tommy Docherty’s side. That and previous instances all happened when Christmas Eve fell on a Saturday.

Boyle scored Chelsea's last Christmas Eve goal in 1966  All you need to know: Wolves vs Chelsea john boyle
Boyle scored Chelsea’s last Christmas Eve goal in 1966

 

Christmas Eve matches

1966 – Chelsea 1-2 Liverpool
1960 – Chelsea 1-2 Manchester United
1955 – Chelsea 2-0 Arsenal
1949 – Derby County 2-2 Chelsea
1938 – Chelsea 4-1 Liverpool
1932 – Sunderland 2-1 Chelsea
1927 – Barnsley 3-1 Chelsea
1921 – Chelsea 1-2 Tottenham Hotspur
1910 – Chelsea 3-0 Gainsborough Trinity

Least recovery time for Chelsea

While Chelsea fought out a Carabao Cup quarter-final on Tuesday, Wolves have had a clear week to prepare – a fair price for progressing in tournaments. Less equitable is the intensity of the Blues’ Christmas match calendar.

Each team must fulfil three rounds of Premier League fixtures over the festive season, but Pochettino’s men who have been handed the shortest periods for rest and recovery before and after games – just 139-and-a-half hours between commitments on 24 and 27 December and the 12.30pm kick-off at Luton on 30 December.

The rapid turnarounds are a worry, especially considering the reported 96 per cent increase in Premier League hamstring injuries this season – many of them, as we know all too well, at the Bridge. Other clubs have been handed a far easier time of it, with Brighton enjoying 283-and-a-half hours of downtime – twice that of the Blues.

Palmer has nine goal involvements in the Premier League this season  All you need to know: Wolves vs Chelsea Palmer Sterling DAZ 2073
Palmer has nine goal involvements in the Premier League this season

 

Young king Cole

Summer signing Palmer has scored or set up nine goals in the Premier League so far (six goals, three assists). One more contribution before he turns 22 on 6 May will add the forward to an illustrious list of young Chelsea creators and match Eden Hazard’s debut campaign numbers, up to his 22nd birthday on 7 January 2013.

Goal involvement in a season (aged 21 or under)

16 Arjen Robben 2004/05
13 Christian Pulisic 2019/20
12 Mason Mount 2019/20
10 Eden Hazard 2012/13
9 Cole Palmer 2023/24

Hitchcock helps plot happy ending

Scrutineers of Djordje Petrovic’s career will not have been surprised by his shoot-out heroics against Newcastle. The 24-year-old had saved six of the previous 27 penalties he faced in his native Serbia and the USA.

Petrovic's shoot-out save sealed our Carabao Cup win over Newcastle  All you need to know: Wolves vs Chelsea Newcastle CC celeb GettyImages 1868250617
Petrovic’s shoot-out save sealed our Carabao Cup win over Newcastle

 

Former Chelsea goalkeeper Kevin Hitchcock, his coach at New England Revolution, may have sensed deja vu too. In an FA Cup shoot-out against the same opponents in January 1996, Hitchy saw Peter Beardsley strike a post then saved Steve Watson’s effort to set up a 4-2 win – the same margin as Tuesday.

Card issue

Chelsea (50 yellow cards) and Wolves (46) are among the most cautioned clubs in the top flight. Until match 19 (Crystal Palace for the Blues) is completed and the punishment bar is raised to 10 cumulative bookings, Enzo, Palmer and Sterling, all on four, are one yellow card away from a ban.

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